The 15:17 To Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train and Three American Heroes – Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Jeffrey E. Stern – (Public Affairs)
What makes a hero? It really isn’t something that you can plan on or train for. There is no book you can read or instructional video on YouTube that you can peruse to prepare yourself. What makes a hero, really boils down to more often than not is the moment and how you react.
Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone were friends, and pretty ordinary, pretty average, American guys; not super-heroes in the making, but when presented with a moment, these three friends became larger than life and answered the call. The 15:17 To Paris, written with Jeffrey E. Stern, recounts not only what happened the fateful day they stopped a terrorist on that train ride to Paris, but also what went into their life/background that prepared them for that day, when these three friends would save hundreds of lives.
Stern also details what it was that went into the creation of the terrorist in question. While this part of the books moves the story forward, it doesn’t fall into the clap trap of trying to bring us to the point of “understanding” what motivates this brutal murderers.
While the background of the three heroes certainly makes up a large part of the story here, it is the description of the heroic acts that is so compelling. Stern’s prose (I can only assume he’s responsible) bypasses any notion of a Hollywood fairy tale; you will find yourself breathing harder and digging in at the description of the life and death struggle Spencer Stone finds himself locked into as he tries to choke out the wiry and surprisingly strong terrorist. Time and time again, with their life in the balance these guys continued to rise to the occasion and take this guy down.
Finally after what seems like an hours long battle, that may have actually been mere minutes, the terrorist succumbs and is knocked out. Luck is not something that often gets mentioned in heroic tales, but clearly it was rolling in their favor on that fateful day, as time after time guns carried and aimed by the terrorist misfired or failed, allowing the heroic trio to stay in the battle.
Even after reading this book, the question remains; how would you react? Do you have the stuff to be a hero? Thankfully, most of us will never know or have the opportunity to find out, but thank God we know with certainty that there are those among us who can answer with a resounding yes.